Equal Access 

New council focuses on housing, transportation for people with disabilities.

Memphis hasn't always boasted the best reputation for providing disabled access, but a new council will help ensure the city is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the late-1990s, the Memphis Center for Independent Living fought to gain access to city property and private businesses. And while much of the city has been brought into compliance over the years, the Memphis City Council unanimously approved the Memphis Advisory Council for Citizens with Disabilities last week.

The council, which currently has 13 members, is composed of people who have disabilities and people who provide services to them. Antonio Adams, ADA compliance coordinator for the city of Memphis, said it was important to include people with disabilities on the new council.

"They have the real-life experiences," said Adams, who acts as the liaison between the new Memphis Advisory Council and city government. "It's easy for an able-bodied person to tell you what the regulations look like, but unless you're a person with disabilities, you don't know. They live this."

The council, which can have up to 21 members, will focus on disability awareness and equal access to housing, transportation, health and education, and employment.

"For example, we want to make sure all of publicly owned businesses are accessible," Adams said. "We want to make sure our communities are walkable and accessible to all citizens. We want to encourage all private entities to make sure that their structures are accessible."

A similar council existed under former Mayor Willie Herenton, but it was only convened at his discretion. This new council will operate continuously.

Louis Patrick, the council's chair, said improving transportation for the disabled is one of its main goals. Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) paratransit vehicles provide similar routes as the mainline bus system, due to federal legislation only requiring the paratransit system to provide services equal to mainline transportation.

This is an issue the council plans to address because when service to an area of town is cut for mainline bus riders, it's also cut for bus riders with disabilities.

"We're looking for a single system of transportation that serves the needs of all citizens in Memphis, including people with disabilities," Patrick said.

Finding accessible and affordable housing for the disabled is another issue on the council's list. Currently, housing with subsidized rent for the disabled or elderly, such as Memphis Towers and St. Peter Villa, are limited to certain areas of the city. Some housing has an age requirement.

Christina Cliff, the council's secretary, said they're pushing to ensure new housing constructed in the city is accessible for disabled visitors.

"When you build a house, or an apartment, or a townhouse, [we're asking] that there be at least one no-step entrance and an accessible bathroom," Cliff said. "If you have someone visiting, whether it be your grandmother, child, or a babysitter, you want to make sure that they can at least go to the bathroom."

The council is having a disability awareness summit on October 13th. They're also seeking people with disabilities to join the council, which meets bimonthly.

Said Patrick: "I would like to see Memphis become a place that people of disabilities see as attractive and accessible to them, a place that's open and welcoming."

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